Couch meets with lawmakers on jail bill

PARKERSBURG — Wood County officials feel they have discovered major problems with how regional jail bills are figured and are presenting them to state officials.

Commission President Blair Couch said he recently attended a meeting of the Post Audit Subcommittee that is part of the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance at the state Capitol in Charleston.

One of the items included discussing the situation with Wood County’s regional jail bill and the audit being conducted by Wood County court coordinator Pam Brust. Since mid-February, Brust has been auditing the county’s jail bills and found over $163,000 in jail credits as the county was overcharged for housing inmates at the North Central Regional Jail.

The state’s Regional Jail Authority has given the county credits for the majority of the credits found.

As the county’s jail bill grew and the auditing process began, officials discovered errors where the county was overcharged for inmates that should have been moved to full state custody but were still being charged on the county’s bill.

Since the county has begun auditing the jail bill, other counties from around the state have contacted Wood County to look at the steps taken in auditing the jail bill.

However, the Post Audit Division’s report puts the responsibility for the errors on the North Central Regional Jail and Wood County.

”Based on the assertion from (the Regional Jail Authority) that the majority of billing errors were isolated to Wood County and stemmed to a processing error at North Central Regional Jail that was not detected by the previous WVRJA (West Virginia Regional Jail Authority) Records Manager, we feel allowing the agency to complete its review and work to correct these issues prior and reviewing the results of those corrective actions is the best current course of action,” their report concluded.

”Once completed, we will speak with Wood County to determine the status of those identified billing errors and whether credits due from DOC (Department of Corrections) were received and the issues fully resolved.”

County officials believe the problem is bigger than just problems between the North Central Regional Jail and Wood County.

”There are a lot more problems here than are being identified,” Couch said. ”They cannot say it is just a mistake with Wood County. I am concerned, because in the report it makes it sound like it is isolated to Wood County.”

Wood County officials discovered jail officials did not always receive jail commitment orders in time to correspond with their commitment dates signed by the judge.

Wood County had one inmate who remained on the county’s bill for over a year-and-a-half who shouldn’t have been, Couch said.

”It should have been caught under someone’s review,” he said.

In many cases, it appears faxes being sent to the jail were not always received and processed, officials said.

Through meetings with jail officials, the county commission was told the North Central Regional Jail receives around 5,000 faxes a day.

”That is hard for anyone to go through and it is prone to errors,” Couch said.

Brust said everything she has done with the jail has the credit memos, which were verified and returned from the Regional Jail Authority.

County officials are instructing Brust to reach out to other counties served by the North Central Regional Jail that are also conducting an audit of their jail bills to see what they are finding.

Also, other counties have been contacting Brust about how she has done the auditing for Wood County as they have had questions about how their bills were figured.

County officials said state commitment should begin the calendar day following the day the commitment order was entered into the court record by the judge. However, they are finding that judges across the state also have a variety of commitment forms and only recently there was any effort to make them uniform statewide.

Brust and County Administrator Marty Seufer said they have had to explain their process to state employees who should know how the jail bill is figured.

Brust said they are getting debits from other counties where Wood County was supposed to be billed. She is also cataloging problems she is finding to be able to be addressed

Couch said they are advising other counties to pay their jail bill.

”If they want to audit it, that is fine, but they need to continue to pay it,” he said. ”We hired Pam through a grant and she has found a lot of good money for Wood County.”

Some counties have stopped paying their jail bill or are underpaying it.

Officials with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) verified Wood County has been paying its jail bill on time, at the legislative hearing, Couch said.

There are over $30,000 in jail credits officials in Wood County still believe are owed.